Graham Court (built 1901)

Harlem is home to an array of attractive pre-war apartment house buildings, many of which have undergone restoration in recent years as its neighborhoods have become hot real estate markets.

In the years after the Civil War, Harlem began to develop with brownstones and a few mansions, but construction shifted to apartment houses towards the end of the nineteenth century as improvements in both transportation and building technologies, notably elevators, made them a more attractive option.

The Majestic (built 1897)

The apartment house trend soon became a boom in the early years of the twentieth century. In those years, Harlem‘s black population was relatively small and the new “high class” buildings only rented to whites. Ironically, according to many historians, an apartment glut by the 1920s opened doors to black tenants who otherwise would have been turned away.

After World War I the area experienced the Harlem Renaissance as the Great Migration and immigration from the West Indies led to Harlem’s emergence as a black neighborhood. However, in response to its new demographics, redlining policies of banks meant that little new housing construction occurred.

After World War II, new housing construction came to Harlem in the form of large-scale public housing projects. Between the small scale brownstones and the large public housing projects, Harlem’s pre-war apartment houses are often forgotten.

Here is our list of ten pre-war apartment house gems of Harlem that should not be overlooked.

10. The Washington

Designed by architect Mortimer C. Merritt and completed in 1884, the same year as The Dakota on the Upper West Side, The Washington was the first middle class apartment house building in Harlem. It was built at West 122nd Street and “Seventh Avenue Boulevard.”

In order to entice the middle class, advertisements for The Washington emphasized the extensive amenities that only a building of this scale could offer.  Soon many more apartment houses in Harlem would follow.

NY Tribune, 4 April 1897. Via Library of Congress, Chronicling America